Wait for Inspiration

Written by cvan on

I’ve heard people say, “don’t wait for inspiration” or “don’t wait for motivation.” I disagree.

Wait for inspiration. Wait for motivation.

I inspire myself by surrounding myself with objects of inspiration: creativity books (my current favorite being “10,000 Things I Love”), conversations with coworkers and friends about their varied interests and grand ideas, old Technicolor films (adventure films, especially – Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest ranks up there), old magazine ads or orchestra concert pamphlets from used bookstores, ham radio enthusiasts’ web pages, astronomy and space exploration (think the original Star Trek and Cosmos television series), 1920s/1930s architecture and interior design of bars and restaurants and lounges (watch My Man Godfrey), and folks in the tech community who experiment with using art and cinema and social communication as avenues of experimentation with Web technologies. Surround yourself, and you will be enveloped – if not bombarded – by inspiration. It’s a good problem to have though.

How do I get motivation? Most of us try to get motivated by ingesting chemicals: vitamins, supplements, caffeine, and alcohol. Sure, these substances can provide us with short bursts of energy, but there’s something much more sustainable and motivating: in-person collaborative work.

My first full-time job out of high school was as a web developer at a Silicon Valley Internet company. As a member of a team of six employees on site (and four remote employees), I became very fond and comfortable of in-person collaboration. Pair programming (to ramp up on a project, to acquaint a new hire, or to force two people to get motivated and focused on a particular project), white boarding a problem with a coworker or two in a conference room, and dishing about innovation over food and drinks – I loved it all. The social interaction made my work feel alive and meaningful – and by extension, I felt alive and meaningful. Though complaints and frustrations were commonplace (like most workplaces), humor and collaboration brought everyone together. And, more importantly to me, it was my motivation.

Over the years, one by one I lost all my on-site teammates, who had either moved locations or left the company. I didn’t realize my new lack of social interaction, not to mention the morale, was directly affecting my motivation. Without the constant back and forth – the humor and the collaboration – I was finding it harder to smile and joke (since I wasn’t used to interacting with work folks who were not on my team) and harder and less enjoyable to work with others in general (who, not by coincidence, were all remote employees). As such, my mental state and productivity declined. I’ve since surrounded myself in the kitchen at work where I joke around and work with other colleagues on a daily basis. Though it can be distracting at times, it’s nothing that noise-cancelling headphones can’t solve.

Figure out what makes you inspired to take on the world. Figure out what makes you motivated to get things done and live the life you want.

Inspiration and motivation come from within. But, by all means, use your external dependencies to sustain those energies. Your mind won’t mind. In fact, it’ll thank you.